With the first case of foot-and-mouth disease confirmed in Ireland, and the British government now saying the situation will last for months, the scope of the highly contagious disease continues to widen.

There are confirmed cases in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Holland, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates. The only country without a confirmed case to have imposed an import ban on horses is Australia. Stallions regularly shuttle between Europe and Australia.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has banned horses from entering the state if they come directly or indirectly from countries where outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have occurred. The ban is in effect for temporary and permanent entry of horses.

The March 23 proclamation is in effect indefinitely, officials said. Colorado enacted a similar ban March 15.

There is disagreement in Great Britain about whether the disease is under control. There were 607 confirmed cases in Britain through March 25, up 47 from the previous day. Should it take many more months to get the disease under control, it would appear doubtful Australia would allow shuttle stallions from European Union countries.

Racing in Ireland was to resume April 14, but that seems in jeopardy. Dick Sheil, manager of Fairyhouse, where the Irish Grand National meet is set to begin April 15, said: "We're taking heart from the fact (the government) hasn't ruled out the possibility of our meeting going ahead."

The loss of the Irish Grand National meet would be a financial blow to Fairyhouse, which has rebuilt its main grandstand. Punchestown, which had hoped for more than 80,000 paying customers at its festival in late April, also is concerned.

The breeze-up sales at Doncaster, Wolverhampton, and Newmarket in Britain in April are due to go ahead as scheduled, but the situation in Ireland is being closely watched because many of the scheduled vendors are based there.

Though horses cannot be infected with foot-and-mouth disease, they are carriers. Those who become infected are cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, pigs, and cattle. The animals are not killed by the disease, but are rendered commercially useless.

At last count in Britain alone, nearly 300,000 animals have been destroyed and another 80,000 carcasses are waiting to be burned. About 130,000 more have been condemned. Estimates are that half of all livestock in Britain has been condemned.

The number of animals destroyed, and to be destroyed, in Britain has surpassed the 433,987 killed there during the eight-month foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967-68.

The first case of foot and mouth was confirmed in Ireland on March 22 in County Louth, just south of the Northern Ireland border. There has also been one confirmed case in France and three in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government announced it would begin a vaccination program, but then backed off that effort at the request of the European Union because of its high cost. Additional reporting by Mark Popham and Nick Hahn

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